Federal Marijuana Laws

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What Are Federal Marijuana Laws?

Federal marijuana laws are the laws that the federal government enacts to criminalize majijuana possession, sale, and cultivation. Each U.S. state also passes their own marijuana laws, but when these laws are in conflict with the federal rules, the federal rules control. Traditionally drug crimes are prosecuted at the state level. But because some states have decriminalized marijuana crimes (such as for medicinal purposes), federal prosecutions for marijuana possession/sale/cultivation are becoming more common.  

The distinction is important, because while many states have rather lax laws concerning marijuana use, the Federal Government has some extremely strict penalties, some of which involve decades of jail time.  

What Amount of Marijuana Do I Have to Carry to Violate Federal Law?

ANY amount. Unlike many states, the federal law does not qualify possession by amount. Possession of any amount of marijuana (even a single marijuana cigarette) is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $1,000 on the first offense. The second offense carries a 15-day mandatory sentence, and can be extended for as long as two years in prison. Any possession after that gets a 90-day to three year prison term, and a $5,000 fine. (It should also be noted that distribution of a small amount of marijuana for no money is usually treated as simple possession.) 

What about Selling Marijuana?

This is where the federal law becomes extremely severe.  The sale of anything less than 50 Kilograms of marijuana (which is obviously the majority of cases by far) is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a whopping $250,000 fine. Selling more than 50 Kilograms is generally something that is relegated to the criminal underworld, but the penalties get exponentially worse:

What's more, distribution of anything over 5 grams to a minor (under 21 years of age, not 18), OR within 1,000 feet of a school, housing project, youth center, video arcade, public pool, or playground automatically doubles all the punishments listed above (both jail time and fines).  

Surprisingly, the federal government can even administer the death penalty for marijuana sale. This is reserved only for the heads of criminal enterprises that distribute more than 60 metric tons of marijuana OR annually make more than $20,000,000 from marijuana sales, but there have been past attempts to lower this threshold significantly. For instance, in 1994, it was proposed to introduce a mandatory death penalty for the second offense of smuggling only 50 grams of marijuana (the bill did not pass, however).

What If I Am Licensed by My State to Grow Marijuana for Medicinal Purposes?

Because the Federal Government does not recognize the legality of medical marijuana, if you are prosecuted under federal law you will not be able to use any defense involving it. This means that even if your state has explicitly authorized you to grow marijuana, federal agents can still arrest you and you can be sentenced according to the guidelines above (and indeed this has happened). So if you grow marijuana legally in your state, you should contact a criminal lawyer about your rights, even if you haven't been arrested.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Criminal offenses involving marijuana laws often result in large fines or long jail sentences. If you are facing criminal charges involving marijuana, you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. An experienced criminal attorney will be able to explain all the risks in greater detail, as well as the complex interaction of federal and state laws in this issue.

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Last Modified: 06-13-2014 10:45 AM PDT

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